Below are some suggestions on how to define your data topic and also a few strategies to help you get started with finding datasets.
As you begin your search for data, it is important to define your topic as clearly as possible. You might also need to be prepared to change your topic depending on available data sources. Keep in mind that data is not available for all possible topics. Sometimes data is proprietary, has not been collected, does not exist in a format convenient to researchers, etc. There may be situations where you will need to adjust your topic and try searching for other types of data.
As you define your topic, we recommend that you visit the Articles & Journals page of this guide to search for articles or research papers that may help you become better acquainted with your subject.
Examples of topics:
Search Strategy #1: Literature Search
You may be able to locate relevant literature by using the Articles & Journals page of this guide to search for articles or papers related to your topic. A literature search is important since it can give you an idea of what others have researched. You could then try replicate the author's work or use it as a basis for your own research. A very important reason for a literature search is to determine the data sources used by the researcher. Since there are a lot of possible data sources, you might have to be creative with your keyword search to locate the right source. Using data sources mentioned in journal papers or books can often save you a lot of time.
Search Strategy #2: Identify Potential Producers
Think about who might collect and/or publish the type of data that you are interested in working with. If you have an idea of who might have the data that you need, try visiting the organization's website to see if any data is freely available.
If the data is produced by a government source, you might try checking the Government Data Sources page of this guide. If it is from a global organization, such as World Bank, you might try checking the Global Organizations Data Sources page of this guide. Another approach might be to try searching for the data producer by organization name in the Statistical Abstract of the United States. (Note, although this version of Statistical Abstract is outdated, it can still help you identify data producers. You would then need to search for more recent data elsewhere).
Search Strategy #3: Search in a Data Repository
This may not be the most effective search strategy, but it can be very helpful to search a data repository that collects within the subject area that you are researching. For business or economic data, the repositories listed on our Social Science Data Repositories page might be a good place to search.
Search Strategy #4: Cast a Wide Net
If you are not sure where else to look for data, you might try using Google Dataset Search. Although it is still relatively new, it can be an effective way to locate datasets hosted in thousands of repositories on the Web. The sources listed on the Free Publicly Available Data page might also be a good place to search.